PepsiCo Inc. (PEP) is the latest Fortune 500 company to arouse the anger of the ultra-conservative American Family Association (AFA) over its support of gay rights.
AFA, which was founded by Christian activist Rev. Donald Wildmon, objects to the Purchase, New York-based company donating $1 million to well-known gay rights groups, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), "to promote the homosexual lifestyle in the workplace," according to AFA's website. Spokespersons for the HRC and PLFAG could not immediately be reached for comment.
The organization denies that it "hates" homosexuals. "It is that love that motivates us to expose the misrepresentation of the radical homosexual agenda and stop its spread though our culture," the group said. Gay people who have long fought AFA would beg to differ.
Nonetheless, PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi has not taken AFA's advice to "remain neutral" in the culture wars. The number two soft drink company sponsors gay pride parades and bought advertisements in Out, a magazine aimed at gays, which features sexually provocative photographs. Moreover, AFA complains in a statement issued June 2 that PepsiCo employees are required to attend diversity training sessions which "promote the acceptance of homosexuality." AFA, which says it stands for "traditional family values," is vehemently against gay marriage as well
Dave DeCecco, a spokesman for PepsiCo, had no immediate comment on the AFA's claims. The group, which has targeted Ford Motor Co. (F), McDonald's Corp. (MCD) and Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT) , has garnered headlines for years for attacking what it sees as the lack of values in the modern media. Wildmon, who founded AFA in 1977, was one of the more persistent critics of shock jock Howard Stern.
The group's campaign against PepsiCo, which began earlier this year, does not appear to have garnered the publicity of past boycotts against against other companies. Websites that follow gay rights have reported on the boycott, which appears to have been largely ignored by the mainstream media. The "culture war" fight gaining the most attention these days is the feud between Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and David Letterman.
Randy Sharp, director of special projects for Tupelo, MS-based AFA, told DailyFinance that his organization is not "picking on" PepsiCo.
"We don't like what they are doing," he said, adding that PepsiCo's backing of gay rights groups show "quite a commitment to the homosexual agenda."
So far, more than 328,000 people have signed AFA's boycott pledge online. Others have filled out paper petitions. In the current economic climate, PepsiCo cannot afford to offend any of its customers, according to Sharp.
"They [boycotts] have not lost their punch," he said. "Companies are looking for every customers. One half of one percent is a huge."
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